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2021 Toyota Venza review: The understated luxury hybrid

The original Toyota Venza was way ahead of its time. A crossover that was more carlike wasn’t well understood when the original car first arrived. Since then, the crossover craze has reached new heights and a new segment between the RAV4 and Highlander emerged as a fast-growing niche. The Venza has returned, too, after a six-year absence. This time it’s powered exclusively by a hybrid powertrain and looks quite posh. How does this new electrified 2021 Venza fare against the competition? Let’s dive in.

2021 Toyota Venza exterior

2021 Toyota Venza front three quarters 04 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Essentially the Japanese market Harrier (Like the strike fighter? — Ed.), the 2021 Toyota Venza is curvy and eye-catching. Its front fascia is unique yet resembles the current Toyota family look. In the rear, you find full-width LED taillights that further accentuates its soft lines. From the side, the Venza’s low-slung roofline adds to its alluring design. As with other Toyota hybrids, the only telltale signs that the Venza is electrified are the blue Toyota badges and the hybrid badges on the front fenders and tailgate.

2021 Toyota Venza interior

2021 Toyota Venza interior 01 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Step inside the Toyota Venza and you might mistake it for a Lexus. Touchpoints feel expensive and nearly every surface is padded or covered in soft plastic. The attention to detail is also first-rate because the panel gaps, contrast stitching, and trim are perfectly aligned. Toyota’s Star Gaze panoramic sunroof creates an airy atmosphere without excessive glare by changing its opacity. We wish the Venza got more sound deadening though because wind noise can get a little excessive on the highway.

The Venza’s swoopy styling cuts into the interior volume. There’s less cargo space with all seats up due to the rear window’s angle, preventing you from stacking or positioning your gear vertically. With the seats down, capacity grows to 54.9- to 55.1 cubic feet, which is 14.7- to 14.8 cubic feet less than a RAV4 Hybrid. Visibility is also slightly compromised by the exterior design, creating a small blind spot when you look to the sides.

Four passengers fit comfortably in the Venza but keep the tall ones in the back. The front seats lack sufficient height adjustment and are positioned slightly higher. Between that and the coupe-like roofline, the front seat headroom is tight, even with the driver’s seat lowered all the way down. Additional small-item storage would go a long way, too. The only cubby under the center stack houses the wireless charging pad but it’s too small for most modern smartphones.

2021 Toyota Venza tech features

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The Venza has the latest version of Toyota’s infotainment system. Like the Highlander, it uses a 12.3-inch touch screen with a permanent split layout. On the smaller section, you can put everything from efficiency graphs to climate controls. The larger portion displays maps, media, settings, and Apple Car Play and Android Auto. This version is quicker than its predecessors but its controls could be easier. Certain climate control functions like Eco mode and recirculate require you to go into the display. The lack of physical knobs and buttons makes the interface distracting to use at a glance because you need to look away from the road to press something.

Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which is standard on all 2021 Venza models, veers on the conservative side. Adaptive cruise control’s distancing function leaves about 1.5 car lengths between you and the vehicle ahead. When the car in front gets going, it’ll give extra room before moving forward. The system brakes early, too, meaning it’ll slow down sooner. Lane-keeping assistance gently steers you back into your lane if you start drifting and guides you through gentle bends.

2021 Toyota Venza driving impressions

2021 Toyota Venza rear three quarters 02 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

As with every Toyota hybrid, the Venza operates smoothly, adding to its Lexus-like vibe. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder is coupled to two electric motors, a lithium-ion battery, and a planetary gear set. With 219 hp combined and instant torque delivery from the two electric motors, the Venza is responsive and delivers power in one continuous wave. Even when you point it up a steep hill, execute passing maneuvers at highway speeds, or load it with four people and their gear, the powertrain has plenty of grunt on reserve.

The two electric motors help the Venza stop because they provide enough regeneration to slow you down significantly while keeping the battery charged. You don’t notice the handoffs from regenerative to mechanical braking. Even during emergency braking, the transitions remain natural, and nose dive is minimal.

Further making you take a second look to make sure that the Venza is wearing a Toyota badge is the way it rides and handles. The suspension absorbs broken pavement like a sponge, meaning passengers barely feel any of the potholes, ruts, and expansion joints you’ve just gone over. Its carlike handling returns too. The Venza has good body control through turns and doesn’t get floaty over dips and big bumps. Light, accurate steering allows the driver to easily maneuver the Venza in tight spaces.

2021 Toyota Venza pricing

The 2021 Toyota Venza starts at $33,645 for the base LE trim. Our range-topping Limited test car with the Advanced Technology package and Star Gaze panoramic sunroof costs $43,100.

Final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Bringing the Venza back was a brilliant move on Toyota’s part because it gave them an entry into the growing two-row mid-size crossover class. Even smarter was making the car more premium and offering it exclusively with a hybrid powertrain that’s powerful and efficient. The result is a vehicle with its own unique identity, one that’s comfortable yet composed and checks a lot of boxes in the process.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Toyota
  • Model: Venza
  • Trim: Limited
  • Type: 4-door mid-size/compact crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 219 hp
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 40/37/39
  • Pros: Excellent fit and finish, smooth yet strong powertrain, comfortable ride
  • Cons: Distracting infotainment controls, wind noise at highway speeds, less cargo space than a RAV4
  • Base price: $33,645
  • Price as tested: $43,100
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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